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Xenu, also Xemu (pronounced /ˈziːnuː/[1][2][3]), was, according to Scientology founder and science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, the dictator of the "Galactic Confederacy" who, 75 million years ago, brought billions[4][5] of his people to Earth in DC-8-like spacecraft, stacked them around volcanoes and killed them using hydrogen bombs. Scientology holds that the essences of these many people remained, and that they form around people in modern times, causing them spiritual harm.[1][6] Members of the Church of Scientology widely deny or try to hide the Xenu story.[7][8]

These events are known within Scientology as "Incident II",[9] and the traumatic memories associated with them as The Wall of Fire. The story of Xenu is part of Scientologist teachings about extraterrestrial civilizations and alien interventions in Earthly events, collectively described as space opera by Hubbard. Hubbard detailed the story in Operating Thetan level III (OT III) in 1967, warning that this material was "calculated to kill (by pneumonia etc) anyone who attempts to solve it."[sic][10][11]

The Xenu story is part of the Church of Scientology's secret "Advanced Technology",[9] normally only revealed to members who have already contributed large amounts of money.[12] The Church avoids mention of Xenu in public statements and has gone to considerable effort to maintain the story's confidentiality, including legal action on the grounds of both copyright and trade secrecy.[13] Despite this, much material on Xenu has leaked to the public via court documents, copies of Hubbard's notes and the Internet.[7]



A contemporary DC-8 airplane. Hubbard described Xenu's spacecraft as looking exactly like DC-8s without "fans" (meaning the engines).[14]

The story of Xenu is covered in OT III, part of Scientology's secret "Advanced Technology" doctrines taught only to advanced members who have undergone many expensive hours of auditing and reached the state of Clear.[9][12] It is described in more detail in the accompanying confidential "Assists" lecture of October 3, 1968 and is dramatized in Revolt in the Stars (a screenplay written by L. Ron Hubbard in 1977).[9][15]

Hubbard wrote that seventy-five million years ago, Xenu was the ruler of a Galactic Confederacy which consisted of 26 stars and 76 planets including Earth, which was then known as "Teegeeack".[5][11] The planets were overpopulated, with an average population of 178 billion.[1][4][6] The Galactic Confederacy's civilization was comparable to our own, with aliens "walking around in clothes which looked very remarkably like the clothes they wear this very minute" and using cars, trains and boats looking exactly the same as those "circa 1950, 1960" on Earth.[16]

Xenu was about to be deposed from power, so he devised a plot to eliminate the excess population from his dominions. With the assistance of psychiatrists, he summoned billions[4][5] of his citizens together under the pretense of income tax inspections, then paralyzed them and froze them in a mixture of alcohol and glycol to capture their souls. The kidnapped populace was loaded into spacecraft for transport to the site of extermination, the planet of Teegeeack (Earth).[5] The appearance of these spacecraft would later be subconsciously expressed in the design of the Douglas DC-8, the only difference being: "the DC8 had fans, propellers on it and the space plane didn't."[14] When they had reached Teegeeack/Earth, the paralyzed citizens were unloaded around the bases of volcanoes across the planet.[5][11] Hydrogen bombs were then lowered into the volcanoes and detonated simultaneously.[11] Only a few aliens' physical bodies survived. Hubbard described the scene in his film script, Revolt in the Stars:

Simultaneously, the planted charges erupted. Atomic blasts ballooned from the craters of Loa, Vesuvius, Shasta, Washington, Fujiyama, Etna, and many, many others. Arching higher and higher, up and outwards, towering clouds mushroomed, shot through with flashes of flame, waste and fission. Great winds raced tumultuously across the face of Earth, spreading tales of destruction...

L. Ron Hubbard, Revolt in the Stars[9]

The now-disembodied victims' souls, which Hubbard called thetans, were blown into the air by the blast. They were captured by Xenu's forces using an "electronic ribbon" ("which also was a type of standing wave") and sucked into "vacuum zones" around the world. The hundreds of billions[5][17] of captured thetans were taken to a type of cinema, where they were forced to watch a "three-D, super colossal motion picture" for thirty-six days. This implanted what Hubbard termed "various misleading data"' (collectively termed the R6 implant) into the memories of the hapless thetans, "which has to do with God, the Devil, space opera, et cetera". This included all world religions, with Hubbard specifically attributing Roman Catholicism and the image of the Crucifixion to the influence of Xenu. The two "implant stations" cited by Hubbard were said to have been located on Hawaii and Las Palmas in the Canary Islands.[18]

In addition to implanting new beliefs in the thetans, the images deprived them of their sense of personal identity. When the thetans left the projection areas, they started to cluster together in groups of a few thousand, having lost the ability to differentiate between each other. Each cluster of thetans gathered into one of the few remaining bodies that survived the explosion. These became what are known as body thetans, which are said to be still clinging to and adversely affecting everyone except those Scientologists who have performed the necessary steps to remove them.[11]

A government faction known as the Loyal Officers finally overthrew Xenu and his renegades, and locked him away in "an electronic mountain trap" from which he still has not escaped.[7] Although the location of Xenu is sometimes said to be the Pyrenees on Earth, this is actually the location Hubbard gave elsewhere for an ancient "Martian report station".[19][20] Teegeeack/Earth was subsequently abandoned by the Galactic Confederacy and remains a pariah "prison planet" to this day, although it has suffered repeatedly from incursions by alien "Invader Forces" since that time.[5][21][22]

The cost of learning these secrets from the Church of Scientology was 3,830 British pounds, or 6,500 US dollars, in 1988.[23][24] This is additional to the cost of the prior courses which are necessary to be eligible for OT III, which could be well over one hundred thousand dollars.[7] Belief in Xenu and body thetans is a requirement for a Scientologist to progress further along the Bridge to Total Freedom.[25]

Scientology doctrine

Within Scientology, the Xenu story is referred to as "The Wall of Fire" or "Incident II".[9][11] Hubbard attached tremendous importance to it, saying that it constituted "the secrets of a disaster which resulted in the decay of life as we know it in this sector of the galaxy".[26] The broad outlines of the story—that 75 million years ago a great catastrophe happened in this sector of the galaxy which caused profoundly negative effects for everyone since then—are publicly admitted to lower-level Scientologists. However, the details are kept strictly confidential, at least within the Church.

The OT III document describes how Hubbard entered the Wall of Fire but emerged alive, "probably the only one ever to do so in 75,000,000 years"[18]. He first publicly announced his "breakthrough" in Ron's Journal 67 (RJ67), a taped lecture Hubbard recorded on September 20, 1967 to be sent to all members of the Church.[14] According to Hubbard, his research was achieved at the cost of a broken back, knee and arm. OT III contains a warning that the R6 implant is "calculated to kill (by pneumonia etc) anyone who attempts to solve it."[18][24] In RJ67,[14] Hubbard then alludes to the devastating effect of Xenu's genocide:

And it is very true that a great catastrophe occurred on this planet and in the other 75 planets which formed this [Galactic] Confederacy 75 million years ago. It has since that time been a desert, and it has been the lot of just a handful to try to push its technology up to a level where someone might adventure forward, penetrate the catastrophe, and undo it. We're well on our way to making this occur.

OT III also deals with Incident I, set four quadrillion[27] years ago (or roughly 300,000 times longer than the current scientifically accepted value for the age of the universe). In Incident I, the unsuspecting thetan was subjected to a loud snapping noise followed by a flood of luminescence, then saw a chariot followed by a trumpeting cherub. After a loud set of snaps, the thetan was overwhelmed by darkness. This is described as the implant offering the gateway to this universe, meaning that these traumatic memories are what separate thetans from their static (natural, godlike) state.

Hubbard uses the existence of body thetans to explain many of the physical and mental ailments of humanity which, he says, prevent people from achieving their highest spiritual levels.[11] OT III tells the Scientologist to locate body thetans and release them from the effects of Incidents I and II by auditing them.[11] This is accomplished in solo auditing, where the Scientologist holds both cans of an E-meter in one hand and asks questions as an auditor. The Scientologist is directed to find a cluster of body thetans, address it telepathically as a cluster and take first the cluster then each individual member of the cluster through Incident II, then Incident I if needed.[11] Hubbard warns that this is a painstaking procedure, and that OT levels IV to VII are necessary to continue the long process of dealing with one's body thetans.

The Church has objected to the Xenu story being used to paint Scientology as a mere science fiction fantasy.[28] See: Space opera in Scientology doctrine. Hubbard's statements concerning the R6 implant have been a source of contention. Critics and some Christians state that Hubbard's statements regarding R6 prove that Scientology doctrine is incompatible with Christianity,[29][30] despite the Church's statements to the contrary.[31] In "Assists", Hubbard says:[16]

Everyman is then shown to have been crucified so don't think that it's an accident that this crucifixion, they found out that this applied. Somebody somewhere on this planet, back about 600 BC, found some pieces of R6, and I don't know how they found it, either by watching madmen or something, but since that time they have used it and it became what is known as Christianity. The man on the Cross. There was no Christ. But the man on the cross is shown as Everyman.

Origins of the story

Hubbard wrote OT III in late 1966 and early 1967 in North Africa while on his way to Las Palmas to join the Enchanter, the first vessel of his private Scientology fleet (the "Sea Org").[26] (OT III says "In December 1967 I knew someone had to take the plunge", but the material was publicised well before this.) He emphasized later that OT III was his own personal discovery.

Critics of Scientology have suggested that other factors may have been at work. In a letter of the time to his wife Mary Sue,[32] Hubbard said that, in order to assist his research, he was drinking alcohol and taking stimulants and depressants ("I'm drinking lots of rum and popping pinks and greys"). His assistant at the time, Virginia Downsborough, said that she had to wean him off the diet of drugs to which he had become accustomed.[33] Russell Miller posits in Bare-faced Messiah that it was important for Hubbard to be found in a debilitated condition, so as to present OT III as "a research accomplishment of immense magnitude".[34]

Elements of the Xenu story appeared in Scientology before OT III. Hubbard's descriptions of extraterrestrial conflicts were put forward as early as 1950 in his book Have You Lived Before This Life?, and were enthusiastically endorsed by Scientologists who documented their past lives on other planets.[5]

Influence of OT III on Scientology

The volcano and fireball on the cover of Dianetics refers to the Xenu story.[9]

The 1968 and subsequent reprints of Dianetics have had covers depicting an exploding volcano, which is reportedly a reference to OT III.[9][18] In a 1968 lecture, and in instructions to his marketing staff, Hubbard explained that these images would "key in" the submerged memories of Incident 1 and impel people to buy the books.[16][35]

A special 'Book Mission' was sent out to promote these books, now empowered and made irresistible by the addition of these overwhelming symbols or images. Organization staff were assured that if they simply held up one of the books, revealing its cover, that any bookstore owner would immediately order crateloads of them. A customs officer, seeing any of the book covers in one's luggage, would immediately pass one on through.

—Bent Corydon, L. Ron Hubbard: Messiah or Madman?[36]

The Sea Org logo

Since the 1980s, the volcano has also been depicted in television commercials advertising Dianetics. Scientology's "Sea Org", an elite group within the church that originated with Hubbard's personal staff aboard his fleet of ships, takes many of its symbols from the story of Xenu and OT III. It is explicitly intended to be a revival of the "Loyal Officers" who overthrew Xenu. Its logo, a wreath with 26 leaves, represents the 26 stars of Xenu's Galactic Confederacy.[37] According to an official Scientology dictionary, "the Sea Org symbol, adopted and used as the symbol of a Galactic Confederacy far back in the history of this sector, derives much of its power and authority from that association."[38]

In the Advanced Orgs in Edinburgh and Los Angeles, Scientology staff were at one time ordered to wear all-white uniforms with silver boots, to mimic Xenu's Galactic Patrol as depicted on the cover of Dianetics: The Evolution of a Science. This was reportedly done on the basis of Hubbard's declaration in his Flag Order 652 that mankind would accept regulation from that group which had last betrayed it—hence the imitation of Xenu's henchmen. (This was almost certainly a misinterpretation of what Hubbard meant—he was most likely referring to psychiatrists, whom he believed had played a key role in Xenu's crimes.) In Los Angeles, a nightwatch was ordered to watch for returning spaceships.[39] These measures were discarded after a time.

"Xenu" or "Xemu"?

The manuscript of OT III contains the only known example of Xenu's name in Hubbard's handwriting.

The name has been spelled both as Xenu and Xemu.[40] The Class VIII course material includes a three-page text, handwritten by Hubbard, headed "Data", in which the Xenu story is given in detail. Hubbard's indistinct handwriting makes either spelling possible,[40] particularly as the use of the name on the first page of OT III is the only known example of the name in his handwriting. In the "Assists" lecture, Hubbard speaks of "Xenu, ahhh, could be spelled X-E-M-U" and clearly says "Xemu" several times on the recording.[16] The treatment of Revolt In The Stars, which is typewritten, uses Xenu exclusively.

Church of Scientology's position

In its public statements, the Church of Scientology has been notably reluctant to allow even a public mention of Xenu. A passing mention by a trial judge in 1997 prompted the Church's lawyers to have the ruling sealed, although this was reversed.[41] In the relatively few instances in which it has acknowledged Xenu, the Church has stated the story is a religious writing that can be seen as the equivalent of the Old Testament—in which miraculous events are described that are unlikely to have occurred in real life, assuming true meaning only after years of study. They complain of critics using it to paint the religion as a science-fiction fantasy.[28]

Senior members of the Church of Scientology have several times publicly denied or minimized the importance of the Xenu story, but others have admitted its existence. In a BBC Panorama programme that aired on May 14, 2007, senior Scientologist Tommy Davis interrupted when celebrity members are asked about Xenu, saying: "None of us know what you're talking about. It's loony. It's weird."[42] In March 2009 Davis was interviewed by investigative journalist Nathan Baca for KESQ-TV and was again asked about the OT III texts.[43] Davis told Baca "I'm familiar with the material," and called it "the confidential scriptures of the Church".[43] When John Carmichael, the president of the Church of Scientology of New York, was asked about the Xenu story in the September 9, 2007 edition of the Daily Telegraph, he said "That's not what we believe."[44] When asked directly about the Xenu story by Ted Koppel on ABC's Nightline, Scientology leader David Miscavige said that he was taking things Hubbard said out of context.[14] However, in a 2006 interview with Rolling Stone, Mike Rinder, the director of the church's Office of Special Affairs, said that "It is not a story, it is an auditing level," when asked about the validity of the Xenu story.[45]

Religious Technology Center director Warren McShane testified in a 1995 court case that the Church of Scientology receives a significant amount of its revenue from fixed donations paid by Scientologists to study the OT materials.[46] McShane said that Hubbard's work "may seem weird" to those that have not yet completed the prior levels of coursework in Scientology.[46] McShane said the story had never been secret, although maintaining there were nevertheless trade secrets contained in OT III. Notably, McShane discussed the details of the story at some length and specifically attributed the authorship of the story to Hubbard.[47]

Scientology has many graduated levels through which one can progress. Many who remain at lower levels in the church are unaware of much of the space-opera doctrines, which mostly begin at Operating Thetan level three, or "OT III".[18][48] Because the information imparted to members is to be kept secret from others who have not attained that level, the member must publicly deny its existence when asked. OT III recipients must sign an agreement promising never to reveal its contents before they are given the manila envelope containing the Xenu knowledge.[45][48] It is knowledge so dangerous, members are told, that anyone learning this material before he is ready could die.

Leaking of the story

Despite the Church's efforts to keep the story secret, details have been leaked over the years. OT III was first revealed in Robert Kaufman's 1972 book Inside Scientology, in which Kaufman detailed his own experiences of OT III.[49] It was later described in a 1981 Clearwater Sun article[50], and came to greater public fame in a 1985 court case brought against the Church by Lawrence Wollersheim. The Church failed to have the documents sealed[24], and attempted to keep the case file checked out by a reader at all times, but the story was summarized in the Los Angeles Times[51] and detailed in William Poundstone's Bigger Secrets (1986) from information presented in the Wollersheim case.[52] In 1987, another book by a disaffected Scientologist, L. Ron Hubbard: Messiah or Madman? quoted the first page of OT III and summarized the rest of its content.[18]

Xenu as depicted by Panorama

Since then, news media have continued to occasionally mention Xenu in coverage of Scientology or its celebrity proponents such as Tom Cruise.[53][54][55] In 1987, the BBC's investigative news series Panorama aired a report entitled "The Road to Total Freedom?" which featured an outline of the OT III story in cartoon form.[56]

On December 24, 1994, the Xenu story was published on the Internet for the first time in a posting to the Usenet newsgroup alt.religion.scientology, through an anonymous remailer.[57] This led to an online battle between Church of Scientology lawyers and detractors. Older versions of OT levels I to VII were brought as exhibits attached to a declaration by Steven Fishman on April 9, 1993 as part of Church of Scientology International v. Fishman and Geertz. The text of this declaration and its exhibits, collectively known as the Fishman Affidavit, were posted to the Internet newsgroup alt.religion.scientology in August 1995 by Arnie Lerma and on the World Wide Web by David S. Touretzky. This was a subject of great controversy and legal battles for several years, notably a copyright raid on Lerma's house (leading to massive mirroring of the documents)[58][59] and a suit against Dutch writer Karin Spaink—the Church bringing suit on copyright violation grounds for reproducing the source material, and also claiming rewordings would reveal a trade secret.

The Church's attempts to keep Xenu under wraps have been cited in court findings against it. In September 2003, a Dutch court, in a ruling in the case against Karin Spaink, stated that one objective in keeping OT II and OT III secret was to wield power over members of the Church and prevent discussion about the Church's teachings and practices:[60]

Despite his claims that premature revelation of the OT III story was lethal, L. Ron Hubbard wrote a screenplay version under the title Revolt in the Stars in the 1970s.[61] This revealed that Xenu had been assisted by beings named Chi ("the Galactic Minister of Police") and Chu ("the Executive President of the Galactic Interplanetary Bank").[62] It has not been officially published, although the treatment was circulated around Hollywood in the early 1980s.[63] Unofficial copies of the screenplay circulate on the Internet.[64][65][66]

On the March 10, 2001, a user posted the text of OT3 to the online community Slashdot. The site owners took down the comment after the Church of Scientology made a legal threat under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.[67][68] Critics of the Church of Scientology have used public protests to spread the Xenu secret.[69] This has included creating web sites with "xenu" in the domain name,[70][71] and displaying the name Xenu on banners,[72] and protest signs.[69]

In popular culture

A number of television shows have featured visual depictions of Xenu, either as a cartoon or a computer-generated character. Hubbard did not describe the physical form of Xenu in the OT III documents and provided no illustrations of him; portrayals of Xenu have therefore varied considerably. BBC Panorama's animated presentation of the OT III story showed Xenu, spaceships carrying captured aliens to Earth and the bombing of the volcanoes. Xenu is depicted as a bald, bearded warlord in a militaristic uniform.[56] The satirical musical A Very Merry Unauthorised Children's Scientology Pageant includes the song "The Way That It Began" in which children in alien costumes tell the story of Xenu.[73] A comic rock opera in which modern Scientologists battle against Xenu was performed as part of the 2007 Edinburgh Fringe.[74]

Xenu as depicted in South Park

In November 2005, "Trapped in the Closet", an episode of the animated television series South Park, satirized Scientology, including an animated retelling of the Xenu story, with the words "THIS IS WHAT SCIENTOLOGISTS ACTUALLY BELIEVE" superimposed on-screen for most of it. Xenu is depicted as a vaguely humanoid alien with tentacles for arms. In the South Park episode, the aliens are directly dropped into the volcanoes, and the thetans rise in an effort to return but are then captured.

The episode became the subject of a controversy when its rebroadcast by Comedy Central was dropped, with another episode being substituted. The channel stated that the substitution was intended to pay tribute to Isaac Hayes. The creators of South Park, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, disagreed and asserted that Comedy Central's owners Viacom had replaced the episode because the Church of Scientology intervened (or interfered) and, more specifically, because Tom Cruise (who was himself lampooned in the episode) threatened distributor Paramount (also a Viacom property) with refusal to cooperate with the promotional campaign on the upcoming film Mission Impossible 3. Cruise's representative denied this, but Parker and Stone issued a satirical press release that was published in the entertainment newspaper, Daily Variety:[75]

"So, Scientology, you may have won THIS battle, but the million-year war for Earth has just begun! Temporarily anozinizing our episode will NOT stop us from keeping Thetans forever trapped in your pitiful man-bodies. Curses and drat! You have obstructed us for now, but your feeble bid to save humanity will fail! HAIL XENU!!!"

Comedy Central did eventually rebroadcast the episode on July 19, 2006 and has continued to do so since.

Xenu appeared in "Willy Ward", the penultimate episode of season 4 of the FX show Nip/Tuck (first broadcast December 5, 2006). In a dream sequence, Scientologist character Kimber Henry (Kelly Carlson) has a vision of Xenu while experiencing hallucinations and doubts about Scientology. Xenu is depicted as a cross between Ming the Merciless and a stereotypical grey alien.[76][77]

See also


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